Thinx wants to ‘eliminate shame’ surrounding menstruation in order to empower women. These pants don’t seem to be eliminating any of the shame that surrounds the tabooed subject of periods. Instead, period panties not only focus on hiding our periods, making sure any evidence that we are on our period, such as leaks or stains are hidden, but tells us that we should look ‘ fly’ (Thinx Website, 2015) while doing it. In the FAQ section, Thinx points out that 80% of American women have experienced anxiety about their periods or had accidents while menstruating. What the Thinx team seems to be missing is that periods themselves are not the source of this anxiety. Periods are natural part of many people’s lives that alone do not create anxiety, what creates anxiety the stigmatisation of menstruation due to sexist societal norms.
Furthermore, Thinx underwear can cost up to $35.00, not exactly an affordable price. This means they are only accessible to a certain demographic. The price seems particularly steep when we consider that they don’t actually replace feminine hygiene products, as their most absorbent pair can only absorb up to six teaspoons of liquid which is the equivalent to two tampons, unless of course you plan to carry multiple pairs of pants around in your bag. If I bought five pairs (i.e. one pair for every day of my period) of their hip hugger underwear it would cost me $173.40 (and that’s with a 15% discount for buying five pairs in one go ) plus the usual cost of my chosen period catcher (eg. tampon, menstrual cup, pad etc.). While we could argue that this is an investment, as the underwear will last for several years, it still seems like a lot of money to ensure that I can hide the fact I’m menstruating.
Returning to the point that the pants aren’t intended to replace pads, tampons or menstrual cups means that they aren’t quite as environmentally friendly as they initially sound. Arguably they could be used as a replacement for pads, tampons, menstrual cups etc. but considering that the most absorbent (and expensive) pair only holds the same amount as two tampons many people would definitely need to wear multiple pairs in one day, which means spending even more money on them. On lighter days they could perhaps act as a replacement so it is fair to say that they can help reduce the amount of landfill waste that periods contribute to. However we also have to consider the fact that they are manufactured in Sri Lanka. Even though they are manufactured in an ethical way in a family firm they still carry a considerable carbon footprint that further undermines the environmental benefits.
If we want to talk about eliminating the shame surrounding periods we should be looking to activists like Rupi Kaur. Kaur has recently caught the attention of mainstream media after causing controversy on Instagram by uploading a picture of herself lying on a bed stained with menstrual blood. These sorts of act defy the societal taboos that surround menstruation by refusing to pretend that menstruation doesn’t happen.
If we really want to eliminate the shame surrounding periods we have to eliminate the source of the shame by defying society's demand to hide our periods. The only way to do this is to start bringing discussions around periods into the mainstream, like Kaur succeeded in doing. Instead of imagining a sociaty where no one feels shame for having a period because they are hiding all signs of menstruation, we should be striving for a society where the bloodiest period leak can happen and instead of being made to feel ashamed and embarrassed we receive comfort and support because periods, visible or not, are not shameful anymore. It’s time we stopped confusing shame-free for embarrassment-free.
On top of this the website and advertising campaigns consistently use a gender binary which means that those who do not comply with hegemonic gender norms but do experience periods are rather excluded. On the whole the Thinx project does nothing to change or acknowledge the power relations that contribute to making periods a shameful experience.
Perhaps the only clear upside to this project is their contribution to Afri-pads. Afripads is an on the ground organisation operating in Uganda which manufactures cost-effective reusable cloth sanitary pads. For every pair of eye-wateringly expensive Thinx panties you buy, Thinx will donate some funds to Afripads that will go towards providing a pack of reusable pads to a girl in Uganda. It is a shame that the considerable downsides to Thinx (elitist price, reliance on gender binary, dedication to make periods less embarrassing rather than trying to change societal norms, and making them less shameful…) means that it is probably better to just donate directly to Afripads.
If you are keen to contribute to a young social enterprise there are, in my opinion, better alternatives out there. For example, Ruby Cup who manufacture menstrual cups and donate one menstrual cup for every one that is bought to a girl in Kenya. They also have a blog which has tips for sexy times during your period including putting a towel down if you want to avoid any mess. Quite the opposite of Thinx do-everything-in-your-power-to hide-your-menstrual-blood-from-everyone approach.
In conclusion, Thinx may promise ‘magic period underwear’ that is going to change the world and empower women everywhere but it seems that they don’t deliver this. While the great side to their project is that they are helping Afripad continue to do their work they don’t seem to be offering a feminist solution to combating the shame that surrounds periods. While I do admire their efforts to start a conversation about periods in the mainstream, this conversation needs to be attacking the power relations, which makes periods shameful. In short, we need to start confronting our menstrual blood, not hiding it in lace.
- Thinx Website: http://www.sheThinx.com/
- Noman, N. 'Three Feminist Geniuses Just Invented A Pair Of Panties That Could Change The World'. Mic. N.p., 2015. Web. 12 June 2015.